(Georgian-style Red Beans)

No, Georgia as in Tblisi, not Atlanta ...

The former Soviet Georgia, that is. South of Russia, Georgia has a marvelous spicy cuisine that makes it a place after my own heart ... as with the U.S., the food over there is better in the south, too!

I had a dish very similar to this in a wonderful Georgian restaurant in Moscow called Guria Cafe. It was a pain in the butt to get a table; the maitre d' was rude, made us wait interminably, and we had to slip him a bribe to get a table. It was worth it. The food was incredible, in huge quantities, astoundingly inexpensive (a huge, multi-course meal for about $4), and the place was absolutely dripping with atmosphere. It was filled with Georgians (including some apparent Georgian mafia types), all of whom were having a great time and singing traditional Georgian songs, one of which I recognized as having been Stalin's favorite. Neato.

I'd love to go back to that place one day, but one of my friends who lives in Russia refuses -- she hates the service, and she's afraid she'll get whacked in some mob rubout. Me, I think the food there is worth the risk!

This dish, not unlike one I had at Guria, begins just like my favorite traditional New Orleans dish, red beans and rice, with soaking red kidney beans overnight. But then, it goes off in a very, very different (and delicious) direction:

Soak the beans in water overnight. The next day, bring to a boil with the next six ingredients. Simmer for one hour, or until tender. Drain.

While the beans are still warm, stir in the remaining ingredients except the cheese. Let stand at room temperature until cool, then stir in the cheese. Refrigerate overnight, then warm before serving.

Serves 6-8.

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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)